We are all processing the devastating and heartbreaking news about the remains of 215 children buried at the Kamloops Residential School in different ways. I know that you join me in deep reflection and respectful witness of this news and its impact, especially on our Indigenous families, friends, colleagues and communities.
As I see the various different ways of remembering the children expressed across the Region; orange shirts, teddy bears, candles, smudges, ceremonies, memorial walks to name but a few, I am most struck by the tiny shoes. Rows upon rows of empty shoes on the steps of important buildings, reminding us that these are real people, real casualties, real losses. I was similarly affected by a visit to the holocaust museum some years ago, where there was another display of tiny shoes, these shoes also a symbol of unimaginable grief and loss. So many shoes. Early in my time with the United Church I had the privilege of attending a potlach ceremony welcoming home the survivors; people who had been ravaged by the impact of residential schools telling their stories and welcoming the healing power of the community. I heard stories of small children being ripped from their families… my children were the same age as some of those kids. I can imagine how broken I would have become if someone had ripped my children away, and like in the cases of the 215, never brought them back. Tiny shoes, a symbol of hope not fulfilled, dreams not realized, generations impacted.
When we engage in the sacrament of holy communion, it is an act of Remembrance. We are being invited into the sacrament of remembering these lost 215, knowing that they symbolize many more tiny shoes whose owners didn’t make it home, or whose lives were impacted by the experience of attending a Residential School.
We invite you into rituals of remembering:
All those tiny shoes, remind us that the legacy of Residential Schools is real. The United Church of Canada has apologized for its role in running of Residential Schools. The apology has been read many times in many different communities. It was read at the Potlach I referred to earlier. As a church, we are truly sorry. But this discovery reminds us that we need to do more than be sorry, we need to do more than read the apology we need to take seriously the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We need to act on the Calls to the Church. We need to live the apology. We need to lead the work of healing in our communities. We need to listen to our Indigenous siblings and respond to their calls.
Executive Minister, Pacific Mountain Regional Council